Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Flam, end of Sognefjord

What's the end of a fjord called? Here, the end of Sognefjord is a little village called Flam. Sognefjord is long and deep but Flam is very small comparatively. I was amazed at how busy Flam was, the waterway is packed full of ferries of different sizes and huge cruise ships. It was like a festival when I arrived because of the massive number of tourists, mostly Chinese Nationals. Its become one of the busiest places in Norway because of the incredible Flamsbana railway, a train that climbs out of this valley way up to join the Oslo/Bergen railway, an incredible engineering feat; one that took 20 years. Flam in the summer is so delightful in spite of the numerous tourists. It is Norway at its best even when it rains. Most people go there as part of a cruise or a group tour which I think is regrettable. There are of course the handful of independent travelers. I went as an independent traveler. It wasn't easy because everything was new and I didn't know what to expect but managed to travel smoothly and wouldn't travel any other way. One can always find someone with the right information even though you might get a lot of rebuffs, more because they don't speak English than intrinsic rudeness. I love Norway. You will too!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I traveled alone for 3 months this last Summer

I flew into London and toured England for a bit because I know when I return a few months later, the season would have changed. I saw England at its most glorious time. Then I flew to Copenhagen for a few days and took the train to Stockholm to spend 'mid sommar' in Skansen, outside of Stockholm. Unfortunately it was rained out. I toured Sweden for a few weeks, took the ferry to Aland, an island chain between Sweden and Finland. After that, another ferry to Turku, Finland before taking the train to Helsinki. I was in Finland for a few weeks before I flew from Helsinki to Oslo. I spent another few weeks in Norway. Norway has become my most favorite country. After that I went to the southern most town of Norway to take the ferry back to Denmark. After a week in Jutland I took the train to Berlin for a few days. I wanted to see how hip Berlin really is. I was in Berlin last year and this made it my second in Berlin. From Berlin I left for Vienna. The main reason for Vienna was to see all of Gustav KLimt's paintings. From there I took the train and spent a night in Frankfurt before heading into Paris for a few days. It was at Paris Gare du Nord station that my luggage was stolen. I went back to England with just the clothes on my back and had to hurriedly put together another wardrobe. I still had my wallet and camera and computer. Thank God. I spent the remaining 9 days in England before finally returning home, tired and broken. I'm still recovering from tendonitis in my right leg after a month of being home.
Picture is of Norway in Summer at Finse, the town at the top of the Bergen/Oslo railway.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Naantali, Finland

Its a little resort town not too far from Turku. I took the bus there. It is very pretty, lots of wooden buildings, pretty gardens and the coast with lots of boats. A lot of the boats were for sale, each one with a price tag of over 100,000 euros and used boats too. There weren't too many tourists about but a lot of Finnish children because there is a Moomin island nearby and they are all going there. We knew nothing of Finland growing up so we weren't brought up with Moomins. I'm only just now finding out about them and am reading up about them and their creator, Tove Jansson.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Helsinki cathedral

Happy Sunday. Picture is of Helsinki cathedral, grand and shining sitting high on a hill, it was tough climbing up its steps but the view was incredible. It was the same inside as the outside, white and plain. 85% of Finns are Lutheran.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Finnish summer

The days were so long. Early in the morning at 4am the bright sunlight is so glaring that without thick drapes one has a very rude awakening. At 10pm there is still light and again without those thick drapes to block out the light it was impossible to fall asleep.But I got increasingly used to it that it didn't bother me anymore. It allowed for a lot more activity to compensate for the long winters. Here in the Lake district of Finland, in Savonlinna, it was glorious. The tall ships is passing by taking many happy tourists, mostly from Finland. One is hard pressed to find any foreign tourists here. This is one of the most beautiful areas of Finland.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Tove Jansson and the Moomins

The guy in the green is Snufkin. If he was a woman, I'll be her. He is a lone traveler and only returns to Moomin valley in Spring and summer and hates a cultivated garden. But prefers the wild meadows. I do too. So my research goes on as I prepare to write about Finland.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I didn't enter Finland through Helsinki. I entered through Aland, an archipelago with Mariehamn as its capital. I took the ferry from Stockholm to Mariehamn, stayed a few days then another ferry to Turku, Finland. I'm writing about Finland right now and doing some reading up about it. It has a very bloody past. Finland fought hard for its independence, both from the Kingdom of Sweden and from Russia. They went through a civil war with what we would call 'pro Russian separatists.' They weren't called that then, they were simply referred to as the 'reds.' Even as I'm finishing writing about England, work is being done on 'Finland.'

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adhu

In Israel a few years ago, will be fasting tomorrow.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A lazy Sunday outside of Helsinki, Finland

This was the train stop for 'Ainola' the former home of Finland's beloved composer, Jean Sibelius. This was as 'far from the beaten path' as one can get but it was about half an hour by commuter train from Helsinki. The walk to the house passed fields like this, woods and fields of wild flowers. Even today with increased building and development, it is easy to see why artist like Sibelius and many others chose this area for their home. I followed the signs that said 'Ainola.' and came to a paradise, the compound that is 'Ainola.'

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Suomi, Finland

Now working on the ebook about Finland. I got to play some Jean Sebelius, 'Finlandia' to get me in the mood!

Saturday, September 19, 2015


The cover is ready. The Kindle book is being written and will be ready quite soon.

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The old part of Stockholm is Gamla Stan, a little place filled with colorful old buildings built close together to form a really thrilling atmosphere. It is empty in the morning but as the day grows, the tourist hordes begin to arrive and then the place is packed like sardines. I stayed in a hostel right in the middle of Gamla Stan so I was always in and out of it, I didn't have to go far, I was right in the middle of the action. It is close to the ferry that take to over to Tivoli and Skansen and close to the palace and all the beautiful government buildings. Stockholm is very grand and beautiful.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Freetown, Copenhagen

It used to be an army depot but squatters colonized it and has been there ever since. Its an 84 acre compound filled with like minded people who wants a non commercialized world. They just build in the compound, look after their own plot without government interference. Hard drugs are not allowed but they do sell some weed in there. There are sentries that watch for anyone trying to take pictures of 'pusher street'. I tried and before I know one of them was in my face demanding that I delete the photo. But you can wander anywhere in the compound and take pictures of other areas. It was the only place that I visited twice because I found it fascinating.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The eternal Anglophile

I grew up in a British colony and went to an English school. All my childhood experiences are English and it is no wonder I grew up an Anglophile, someone who loves all things English even though I've lived in the USA for over 30 years. Its no different today as I watch mostly movies about England, watch English TV series on public television, love the British Bake off shows, Downton Abbey, I know many of us living in the US are in a similar disposition. Its no wonder I'm always in and out of London and therefore England. This past Summer I spent almost a whole month in England. I want to see it in its glory and glorious it was, the lush green rolling hills, the woods, the splendorous country gardens. I do recommend being in England in June. Even the English weather was enjoyed. I spent 3 months traveling alone this past Summer and it rained half the time wherever I was and the English weather did put me off one bit. It was part of the English experience.
Growing up in British North Borneo, my only entertainment was the little library that the British set up in town, the British Council which had also a small library and shows BBC productions of the English classics. We had no television growing up and so our dearest friend was BBC radio. I remember shows like, 'just a minute' where a group of people has to talk for 60 seconds and not repeat any single word. We also enjoyed '20 questions' where within asking 20 questions the panel must guess the object. This was how I learned to speak English and read and write English. Today in my travels in England I have met a lot of foreign students learning English in England. I don't envy them because their success rate is quite low.
I remember going to the movies. For some reason the distribution of American films were not widespread and that was a godsend because the only movies we watched were British productions. Again in the literary world, the only books we knew were all English writers like the Bronte sisters, Kipling, Enid Blyton, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and others.
Today I watch movies like Love, actually, Charlotte Gray, the Merchant/Ivory movies, and prefer actresses like Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench.
While in England over this Summer, I met a lot of German girls or young ladies, some has spent time in England as an au pair or been to an English University. They speak English like an English person. A lot of these German girls teach English in schools in Germany. One of them works for BMW in Munich as a venue scout. She travels all over the world for BMW. I'm sure her versatility in the English language has given her a leg up. I am grateful to my English upbringing because it has given me a versatility that I would otherwise not have and given me an incredible leg up.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Free London 2

The tube station is Warwick avenue, just get off and go to street level. Follow the signs to 'Little Venice'. There are still active canals in the middle of London where barges till roam, mostly people who lived in them. Most of them will be moored here at Little Venice and one can round the canals, takes a few hours to walk 7 miles. It is fun to see the various barges, each being home to some Londoner.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Free London

Is there anything free in London? Yes, most of the major museums are free, the British Library, the British museum, the Tate and so many others. Also all the parks are free. This one included, this is the Queen Mary rose garden which is a part of Regent's park. The only thing needed is the energy to walk this massive park and this massive rose garden, home to 4,000 different roses. I love the old fashion English roses and there are many. Just when you thought you found your most favorite one, there is another favorite next to it. Go during the first 2 weeks of June and be enthralled. I was. It is the most beautiful place that I've ever been and its what England is all about.

Monday, September 14, 2015

London 101

London is expensive but there are ways to lighten the financial burden. Staying in a hostel is one, at my age, I still opt to sleep in dorms, mixed dorms at that, just so to spend less money on accommodations but more on other experiences. Taking a free walking tour is another way of spending less money though these tours in London often involve a tip. There are true free walking tours in other cities, York and Bath, these were truly free, they don't require tipping. But it was great doing this walking tour in London, I was able to see a side of London I wouldn't otherwise have opted to see, to walk along the Thames on this side. I did walk along the Thames on the other side and saw the whole outside of Parliament building, an unimpeded view of it, a wonderful sight. London is crowded is an understatement, around the major sights, it is always packed with tourists. Most major sights are free, the Tate Modern, the British museum, the British Library to name a few. I'm back to writing and will publish soon.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Life on the water in Scandinavia

With so much water surrounding them, boats are essential in Scandinavia. Boats that are living spaces and also leisure places. I'm amazed at all the children who feel so at home on the water.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Is not Denmark good enough for tourists?

This was a recent newspaper headline. Indeed while loads of people visit Copenhagen, there are few to be found in some of Denmark's other splendorous villages. I've been to a few during my recent visit. What's Denmark got to do to promote their other places? I could volunteer to help promote their other places. Denmark has a wonderful train and bus system and every place is linked up easily with its airport at Copenhagen. One can easily enter through Germany at Flensburg as the refugees found out. Or one can take the train from Malmo or Stockholm. The picture is of Ribe, on Jutland, to the far Western side, as far from Copenhagen as is possible though not quite possible because Denmark is very small. They are even now updating and laying new and more railway tracks. Please visit Denmark, its easy and fun.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dove cottage, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Grasmere, Lake district, England

Dorothy Wordsworth, the sister of William Wordsworth kept a journal of all that was happening in their lives in Dove cottage. Today Dove cottage in Grasmere is opened to the public and the museum next to it gives wonderful insight to their lives in the Lake district. Grasmere is the prettiest of all the villages in the Lake district, in my opinion. William Wordsworth is buried here. On April 15, on one of their walks, Dorothy recorded, 'we saw that there was a long belt of them (daffodils) along the shore. (of a lake I presume). I never saw daffodils so beautiful....' We know that William Wordsworth valued his sitter's journals because his poetry mirrors her journals. His poem 'the daffodils' has these lines, 'I wandered lonely as a cloud. That floats on high o'er vales and hills. When all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils.' It ends with this line, 'And dances with the daffodils.' William Wordsworth is forever associated with daffodils.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hiking in the Lake district of England

Here in the Lake district, we're closer to Glasgow, Scotland than we are to London. It was here that a few of Britain's most beloved writers found their home and inspiration, John Ruskin, William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. It was easy to see why. As I step outside into any of the many villages that dot the various lakes, the birds were chirping, the sun tries to come out, there is a gentle breeze, the riotous colors of all the flowers, one can't help but burst into song, poem, or sonnet. The sign said, 'take a walk through the tarn behind the cottage'. What's a tarn? Who cares. I took that walk and it led past some beautiful English country gardens and fields and meadows and forded some streams. This was what England is all about.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Preikestolen, Norway

I know I didn't get those fantastic pictures of the edge. I kept my distance. I'm not going to risk falling off. Indeed over the weekend, an Australia girl fell off Troltunga and died. I know this wasn't Troltunga but it carried the same risk. It was a hard climb for me, took 3 hours to get up there and 2 and 1/2 to get down and it was raining. It was quite late in the afternoon when I came down and people were still going up and some wearing the wrong shoes.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Cambridge, England

I've long been associated with Cambridge and the university of Cambridge. Having grown up in a former British colony, all our exams and curriculum came from the university of Cambridge. I'm eternally grateful to the British for my English education which has allowed me to prosper in the English speaking world. I'm surprised at myself that I left  it till today to visit a kind of alma mater for me. It was a Sunday when I stepped off the train from London. The church bells were ringing from every church and there were a lot. As I walked through the narrow village lanes and past churches I hear the familiar ring of the Anglican liturgy being said and floods of memory came back to me. I was raised in an Anglican church and school environment. It was like a homecoming of sorts.This is the far reaching legacy of the church of England and the university of Cambridge and the British empire as a whole. I'm proud to say that I am one of its products. I salute you, Cambridge and I thank you.

Monday, September 07, 2015


What am I doing for an encore? I traveled alone for 3 months this summer. I'm looking for that beautiful place so I can get lost next summer.

Labor day

I'm making this cake for Labor day celebration. I'm using a genoise for the cake. Its cooling on the kitchen counter right now and will be assembled pretty soon. I hope it turns out wonderfully. This was a cake I ate in Mariehamm, Aland, a group of islands off the coast of Sweden.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

The secret garden

The path leading to the secret garden at Crook Hall and gardens, clearly every writer or creative person needs a beautiful garden. Nature is so luxuriant and giving.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Crook Hall and gardens, Durham, England

Now I begin the task of writing about the trip. How can I forget this beautiful day of dappled sunshine and splendorous flowers of Crook hall and gardens in Durham, England. Durham is not a destination on anyone's list unless they are interested in Durham cathedral and the burial tombs of St Cuthbert and St Bede.

Friday, September 04, 2015

English tea shops

What is England without its tea shops? A sign I saw in Norway read, 'find a beautiful place and get lost in it.' That's exactly what I try to do each time I see a beautiful spot, time to sit myself down, have tea and cake and be lost in my thoughts.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

London 101

London and England is an expensive place but with a little knowledge and ingenuity one can have an affordable time. The 'tube' is always expensive but buses are cheaper. The first thing to do after landing is to buy an oyster card at any of the tube stations and top it up as you go. It can be used on the tube or on buses. If you learn the bus system, your money will go further. I use an oyster card for the convenience, rather than buying a ticket every time I use the bus or the tube, I just tap my oyster card. It'll tell you when you're short of funds for your trip and you can then go and top it up. I took one major trip to England recently. While this is mostly about that trip, it will include my previous forays into this glorious place. Even though I have family in London, I choose not to stay with them because if I do I'll end up sitting on their couches all day long chatting and drinking tea. Not that its a bad idea but I'm in London to do things, to see things. This means I have to look for affordable accommodations. During previous visits I like to stay around Victoria station at the cheap hotels that dot the Pimlico area but those places are ugly and at 65 pounds are not cheap. Besides wi-fi is extra. So I decided to leave my comfort zone and venture elsewhere. There is a growing hostel industry in central London. A lot of modern style hostels have cropped up in recent years offering acceptable amenities, are affordable and in good locations. I stayed in a Generator hostel, a growing chain of modern hostels that has set up shop in some of the major cities in Europe. While this one in London is not at par with their Paris or Copenhagen counterparts, at around 35 pounds  a night in a mixed dorm it is acceptable for central London. During this trip I have stayed in so many mixed dorm that I no longer squirm when I see the only places left are mixed dorms. In fact a lot of travelers even prefer mixed dorms.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Splendorous England

The idea is to go in June so as to see England in all its splendor. It was splendorous. I came to see wild meadows and I did, to see country gardens and I did, to pick blackberries and I did, to eat cake and drink tea and I did. I came to be inspired by the homes and gardens of English authors who have impacted my life in huge measures and I was. I came to visit family and I did. What a glorious time I had in England. I can't wait to visit again and see more.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Home again

I'm home and am going through the thousands of photos I took. When my luggage was stolen in Paris, I also lost what I wrote the last 3 months. Now the time has come to reconstruct and rewrite. I need a vacation first.